Charisma Hehakaya wins the Diversity & Inclusion Award 2023

Charisma Hehakaya, PhD candidate at the division Imaging & Oncology of UMC Utrecht, wins the Diversity & Inclusion Award 2023 for her boundless commitment to supporting students who are the first ones in their family to follow an academic study. Students such as Charisma.

portretfoto charisma hehakaya
Charisma Hehakaya. Photo: Henja Kooijman

Charisma is the founder of the First Generation Fund and the University Pioneers network. The First Generation Fund offers financial support to first generation students. The University Pioneers community helps first generation students find their way in student life and make the most of their talents.

At the presentation of the award, Diversity Dean Janneke Plantinga voiced the jury’s admiration for Charisma’s great commitment for creating visibility for first generation students. It is a large group, approximately one third of all students at Utrecht University. For them, an academic study is not a given. Within just a bit more than a year, more than twenty students have already received a financial contribution from the First Generation Fund for their textbooks or a laptop, or for a stay at a university abroad.

Charisma tells about her own experiences in DUB:

”I had failed at the final exams and wanted to finish my VWO education at Vavo (adult education; ed.) in Utrecht. That demanded a lot of self-reliance. I also had to work in order to make the ends meet. That made me grow up fast, and I knew how to make conscious choices from early on, also in choosing a study.”

When studying Science, Business & Innovation at Free University Amsterdam she was met with various obstacles. “I found reading texts difficult, as we didn’t read books or newspapers at home.” She also had trouble with explaining her parents what studying is all about. “Studying entails more than passing exams; it contributes also to developing new skills, learning to think critically, and getting to know new people.”

In the past year, her initiatives have received plenty of attention in Dutch media. In January, she was a guest speaker in the theatre tour Sander over de brug (‘Sander across the bridge’) by Sander Schimmelpennick about social inequality in the Netherlands. The interest in the problems of first generation students clearly shows that Charisma Hehakaya has drawn public attention to an important topic.

The other nominees were:

  • UU/HU boat CanalPrideUtrecht organisation: With the joint boat of Utrecht University and Utrecht University of Applied Sciences at the Utrecht Canal Pride 2022, the organising team increased the visibility of the LGBTIQ+ community within the university. The team also ensured excellent cooperation with the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences.
  • Chahida Bouhamou: U-Talent staff member and Interdisciplinary Social Science teacher Chahida Bouhamou has made a visible contribution to increasing diversity both among students and staff, with the project NUU! for  secondary school students and as project manager of U-Talent University Pioneers and the University Pioneers community, among other things.
  • VUUR association (Lijst VUUR): For more than 15 years, the association has been committed to recruiting and training student council members, who contribute to a more diverse and inclusive university through co-determination. The association also provides connection and continuity within the changing group of student council members.

The annual Diversity & Inclusion Award is for a student, staff member, or team, who has made a significant contribution for diversity and inclusion at Utrecht University in the past year. The winner will receive the Diversity & Inclusion Award and a sum of €2,500, which can be used for diversity improvement within Utrecht University.

genomineerden Diversity & Inclusion Award 2023
Diversity & Inclusion Award 2023 nominees with Diversity Dean Janneke Plantenga (back row, in the middle)